Listening to a philosopher

Bird Droppings November 29, 2011
Listening to a philosopher

A beautiful sky this morning as I walked out and actually rather warm which is surprising as the sky while filled with clouds was clear and most of my students were hoping for snow although hit is still showing up on weather maps further west of us. A moon reflecting would have added so much to the sky with the clouds as they were against the stars. Even so the stars and white billowing clouds presented a surreal picture for me as I walked the dog this morning and went to Quick Trip earlier than normal to fill up my wife’s car. Before I left the house I was reading in National Geographic an article on possible life somewhere out in the universe and all of the possibilities that continue to pop up. It has not been long since I fancied myself a philosopher of sorts maybe since yesterday. Perhaps it was my graduate work that got me truly entrenched in philosophical meandering that led to this conclusion or trying a million times to formulate a philosophy of teaching while it evolved before me. Actually I think it is because I enjoy pondering too much. Wondering and thinking about all that is around me as I journey through life.

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Frank Bird and Ray Clark as they were walking daily five or six miles each morning back in the day

“How people keep correcting us when we are young! There is always some bad habit or other they tell us we ought to get over. Yet most bad habits are tools to help us through life.” Friedrich Nietzsche

As I looked for a starting place for my daily journal I was interrupted to take dog out again so I could get back to my writing. As I went up and down the stairs and walked out into a sky as wonderful as it is this morning I recalled a period in my life when I would get up every morning early and walk several miles discussing philosophy, theology and other relevant issues with a very good friend of mine. It was an interesting time and actually many concepts that I hold now came to fruition during those walks. Over the years as I look back and truly most things considered that I consider “bad habits” I had given up in the days past however they do provide tools for pondering ideas further and pushing thoughts beyond where they were. I have found however many people simply get mired in that bad habit or two and it becomes part of their life not merely a stepping stone or tool but a crutch and support. Perhaps even a cast of sorts locking them into that point in time.

“Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation.” C. Everett Koop

Most folks won’t even recognize the name of Dr. Koop former Surgeon General of the United States and former head of pediatric surgery at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital. As I thought of Nietzsche’s quotes and while not taking a walk today I did go and walk dogs twice outside so my wife and son would not have to get up as the holiday is officially over and we all are back at work today. I started writing a bit later today then I thought I would. Nietzsche as you read his work is often self-focused and negative and perhaps in some ways I like looking to his thoughts for contrast for adding a back drop to a brighter thought. Somewhere I started writing about Dr. Koop.
Dr. C. Everett Koop was instrumental in the anti-cigarette laws and anti-tobacco laws. On a personal note he was the surgeon for my younger brother many years ago when we lived in Pennsylvania. My father used to tell a story of Dr. Koop, his staff and my father all gathered together around John, my brother who was born with cerebral palsy and later developed encephalitis’s who approaching surgery. Dad would say having been in the Navy medical corp. and around death in WWII so much the aura around Koop was different, he exuded life he thrived on life and when he asked all to join hands and pray around John he made my father’s day.
But one thing that has stuck with me from dads conversation with Dr. Koop was a quote very seldom seen, “Having worked with terminally ill children and seriously ill children for many years in all of those years I have never seen a parent of one of these children who did not pray”. As I think back and remember bits and pieces, Dr. Koop’s comment and discussions with my father he wasn’t referring to religion as much as to faith. Faith also parallels trust and it was in that trust in Dr. Koop and or trust in the hospital that parents would have faith and hope. Dr. Koop was a man of hope, of future, and of faith.

“Faith has to do with things that are not seen, and hope with things that are not in hand.” Saint Thomas Aquinas

“Our faith comes in moments… yet there is a depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am ending with a simple idea for another day or actually several ideas to ponder and mull over as we ascend the plateau to view the vista. In another day a new month ahead my friends have a glorious day today, build for tomorrow and keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your thoughts and always give thanks.

A path to the top

Bird Droppings November 8, 2011
A path to the top

Sitting in my kitchen I was too lazy to take my computer upstairs this weekend and got listening to a great horned owl calling outside. For several days I have been slowed down by a respiratory infection and literally spent most of the past few days during the evenings lying around. Old age and weather changes are getting harder to put up with. I had a dream last night and of all places for it to take place but in my old town of Macon Georgia. In my dream I had an urge to climb to the top of the Great Temple Mound in Macon, Georgia. Perhaps it was I had been researching the Indian mounds on line and felt I needed to go there and my youngest son used to provide the excuse as his college was close by to the mounds.
In my dream I took several pictures and sprinkled a bit of sage and sweet grass to each corner of the world. As I walked to the mound a sign addressed the sacredness of this spot of earth. It read simply to please understand many people consider this place sacred. There was a list of things not to do at this point. No smoking, no ball throwing, no Frisbee throwing, no kite flying and several others including no picnicking. I wondered as I walked down if finding peace within was ok here on this special place. It is a place of solitude when no one is around in the middle of Macon Georgia.
Thinking back a few months to my last trip to the mounds from atop the Great Temple mound you can see the main streets of Macon. I often have wondered as to all the energy and thoughts that have mingled here for many thousands of years. It is still a very special and sacred place for The Muskogee Creek nation.

“Come; let us put our minds together to see what kind of life we can create for our children.” Sitting Bull, Lakota Sioux

It has been eleven years since I did a research paper on the causes of emotional and behavior issues with children. When I first started back to teaching in 2001, it really was not all that much different from the early seventies when I last taught. When I wrote the paper I was looking for commonalities among children who had issues in school and in life in general. I listed drugs use, alcohol use, jail time, probation, age, sex, drivers licenses, wealth, social status, child hood illnesses and whatever else I could find measurable numbers or information on. I did not question students since all of this was on their public record.
As I looked deeper into students, children with emotional and behavior problems I found in most cases they were made they did not just happen. Indirectly we created each of the issues that manifested within these kids. In an old, Divorce article entitled Help for Generation X they listed statistics in 1970 that 72% of adult population was married and in 1999 only 59% and dropping. It was interesting that in statistics the number of divorces granted is down per 1000 people, but going up per number of new marriages. As I researched nearly ten years ago in that group of students I was looking at and I found that two out of twenty eight lived with natural parents.

“It seems that the divorce culture feeds on itself, creating a one-way downward spiral of unhappiness and failure.” David Brenner, New York, July 14, 1999, Associate director of the Institute for American Values

“There are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents.” Leon R. Yankwich

I am captivated by the errors and flaws within our society perhaps why I enjoy some of the shows on TV dealing with such issues. Although I really like the adage from Yankwich of illegitimate parents it is not the kids fault.

“Having children makes one no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.” Michael Levine

As I researched deeper in reasons children have issues often I found issues were learned and the examples were set at home. Be it drugs, alcohol, and literally any number of issues presented had been directly related to home situations. Children learn what they live both positively and negatively as Dr. Laura Nolte writes extensively about and is featured in her Children Learn what they live poster of the early seventies. Yesterday the news was filled with stories of teenagers, young people who had gotten into trouble. I remember back to a news flash nearly eight years ago, in Minnesota a young man killed nine people in a shooting spree. Elsewhere here in Atlanta area drug arrests and gangs.
Several years ago I was walking outside my room when student came up sheepishly and hugged me and apologized. I am so sorry for what happened was her comment. It was that this student was in a fight with another student in the cafeteria and I had pulled them apart. It was a strange feeling being thanked for breaking up a fight, by one that was involved. I can now say she is in a class room full of kindergarten children teaching in a nearby county and doing very well and no fights that I know of.
Back several years ago I was at a basketball game and parents were yelling at each other over their kids, in front of the audience to a point a resource officer was involved. It really is no different than thirty years ago when I coached basketball in Macon Georgia and the kids liked this old crude gym better than the new gym. Parents could not fit inside and kids could just play basketball with no parental yelling to be heard. Recently watching a softball game I generally go into the dugout to take photos and one of the coaches went to the gate and told a father he would have a resource officer escort him off the field if he did not leave his daughter alone. Amazingly the little girl went on to win quite a few games once that pressure was removed and her coaches were able to direct her attention.

“Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation.” Dr. C. Everett Koop

I never met the man but my father always spoke highly of him as he was my brother’s physician in Philadelphia when my late brother John was at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital. In later years Dr. Koop was Surgeon General of the United States. It was Dr. Koop who had the warning labels placed on cigarette packaging. I seem to be always looking for answers midst all the questions and always more questions.

“Children are curious and are risk takers. They have lots of courage. They venture out into a world that is immense and dangerous. A child initially trusts life and the processes of life.” John Bradshaw

Perhaps it is the breaking of trust that causes issues to arise. Years ago I did a graph on the development of trust, showing stages in how trust develops with a child and then into an adult. We are born with a universal trust as an infant you instinctually trust. As you grow you learn to not trust and eventually come full circle learning to trust again.

“Trust evolves. We start off as babies with perfect trust. Inevitably, trust is damaged by our parents or other family members. Depending on the severity, we may experience devastated trust, in which the trust is completely broken. In order to heal, we must learn when and how trust can be restored. As part of this final step, if we cannot fully trust someone then we establish guarded, conditional, or selective trust.” Dr. Riki Robbins, PhD, The Four Stages of Trust

It has been a few years since I read a book by Dr. Temple Grantin, Animals in Translation. Dr. Grantin’s unique view is that she is autistic as she looks at animals in a different light than we do, since she operates on that instinctual level at a higher level of trust than many can attain. She stills functions in a world of trust and maintains trust but emotions do not interfere in her world. In a family setting what more so than parents leaving, could display trust in a child let alone destroy that trust. When they come to school we then want them to lead normal lives and have “normal” trust.

“When a parent is consistent and dependable, the baby develops sense of basic trust. The baby builds this trust when they are cold, wet or hungry and they can count on others to relieve their pain. The alternative is a sense of mistrust, the feeling that the parent is undependable and may not be there when they are needed.” Eric Erikson, Eric Erikson’s, Eight Stages of Life

Sitting writing here getting near the holiday and perhaps our three sons could all be home from school and work for Thanksgiving, it is so easy to say no problem. Then I think back to when to that time when I looked on Yahoo News and the Red Lake Reservation shootings were the headlines of the day and how and why a 15 year old would kill nine people and himself.

“Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.” Black Elk, Oglala Sioux, Holy man

In 1972 or so I met a young man in Macon Georgia, a Muskogee Creek whose grandfather was the medicine man to the Creek nation at his death. At that time he was a year older than me and still is from last I heard. In his tribal name he was called Red Clay; he was and is an artist. My family has many of his pieces of sculpture, drawings and paintings. In 1975 or so he went through a divorce after his wife lost a baby. Every day that I have known him he had been drinking. He was once the most requested teacher in Bibb County now an itinerant carpenter and Professional feather dancer, although I have been told he recently retired from dancing and is now a lead drummer in the Pow Wow circles.
There was a comment that stuck with me and an image. He painted a small acrylic painting that my mother has hanging in her office area. It is of three burial platforms in the prairie. The platform in the front of the picture is for a chief or man of importance, the second for his wife and the third for a small infant each depicted as a burial platform. The infant platform was for his unborn baby from so many years ago. He told me nearly twenty years ago he would not live past forty. Now nearly sixty four he has but just barely. As I look back and think of how we respond and how we set that example for our children.
I think to my dream yesterday and my walk up the mound in Macon back a few months. During the night my back was bothering me from climbing in my dream and it was a difficult pathway to follow to the top. It was something I was to do. I am still not sure why. I am writing about how youth have lost touch with the sacred in life in a paper for publication later in the year. How we seem in our technological world to find answers in Google or Ask Jeeves, never do we consider an unanswerable question. So much of our lives is immediate and now, communication being a key component of that immediacy.
I started reading Kent Nerburn’s books several years ago. He taught at Red Lake High School in Minnesota and I have referenced many times the editorial he penned after the event.

“This Red Lake story is hidden beneath two layers of mythology and misunderstanding that pervade contemporary American culture: “rural” and “Indian reservation.” In each lies a series of expectations and misconceptions that obscures the truth of events and makes what takes place there something “other” than the workaday affairs of our urban and suburban lives. Watch, now, and see if that mythology and misunderstanding obscures the truth. I know Red Lake. I know those kids. They are just like my students asleep in their beds here in Oxford, just like your children brushing their teeth and packing up their books down the hall from where you are reading this paper. It was Sitting Bull, the great Lakota chief, who said it best: “Come, let us put our minds together to see what kind of life we can create for our children. “Those children in Red Lake are your children. Hear their cries and the cries of their parents as if they were your own.” Kent Nerburn

I wonder as I sit thinking back a day or five years and wonder could I have done something a bit different. I had a phone call from a friend and tried to return that call and did not get through. I always wonder what if? Each time I drive by the Diagnostic Center in Jackson Georgia I think back to 1977 and a former student who maybe I could have done something more for. He is serving three life sentences now in a psychiatric unit. So today as I wandered in my thoughts please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.